My husband and I divorced, reasonably amicably, last year. I am seeing someone else and we are relatively unscarred. But a friend of mine recently asked my ex-husband to dinner in order to set him up with someone. I’m just so hurt. My ex was unfaithful to me; for a time, I was very hurt and distressed and this woman was one of my sounding boards. I am so upset and angry that I don’t think I can ever forgive her. Should I even forgive her? And how can I make her see that what she did was wrong?
We are outraged on your behalf. What was she THINKING? How very DARE she? How could she be so stupid and insensitive and crass? Honestly… some people. Ugh. But the thing is, where will our shared outrage lead us? Nowhere good – that’s the problem. Nowhere healing or productive or fun. It’s a bore but it’s true that flouncing around, furiously claiming loyalties after a break-up, does very little either to soothe our battered hearts or to shore up the friendships we rely on.
That said, people often don’t know that they’ve hurt your feelings until you tell them. She may think you are well beyond caring, what with your boyfriend and your amicable divorce. Seeing as you consider yourself “unscarred”, perhaps even you are taken aback by the violence of your reaction. There is something territorial in us, isn’t there, which dictates that our exes are forever out of bounds unless we explicitly state otherwise. But life is messy. And what feels – understandably – like an act of betrayal to you, was an act of love from her to her friend. People enjoy spreading love around, like manure. Helping beautiful things to grow.
You think you’re unscarred but you still went through all this. And good divorces are sometimes only good until other people get involved. Even if your marriage didn’t last forever, your divorce will, possibly accompanied by an ever-evolving fallout as circumstances change. You are still finding a way to be divorced from this man for the rest of your life.
You may currently be discovering that the pain and distress you felt when your ex-husband had an affair is being re-triggered by this situation. And that hurt will feed your outrage almost without you realising it. It will fan the flames of your moral indignation in the most unhelpful way possible.
Even though that pain was entirely justified, awful and an appropriate emotional response, your fresh memory of it may lead you to clamber up on to a moral high ground that revolves around deserving singles and undeserving singles. Cheaters are undeserving, right? Except these staunch moral codes will tend to trip us up in real life when everyone wants to fall in love or get laid or find a companion for the cinema.
This decision was a very peculiar choice on her part. That doesn’t mean that you can’t forgive her. Unforgiveness will, ultimately, only really hurt you. Resentment rots and it poisons. People don’t just forgive because they are holy and worthy and high-minded. They forgive because it is so often the cleverer choice; the one that frees us. You know what Carrie Fisher famously said: resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
You might express to her that this matchmaking upset you. Astonished you. Just to get it off your chest. She might say, “I’m so sorry – what was I THINKING?” or she might say, “I think this is an overreaction considering how much time has passed.” She might cry or shout or ghost you. She might gossip or accuse or apologise. We don’t know. We don’t really care because – from your longer letter – she does not seem precious to you. She is “a friend of mine”. Not good or old or best or dear.
Yes, she was a sounding board but occasionally, when we are in pain, we bring in odd people. Or we lean on the nearest person. Or we tell everybody and we overshare. There is often a team around us during heartbreak – some close, others circumstantial. But you are no longer a married woman being lied to. She has not broken your heart with this dinner party and he has not re-broken your heart. Let’s not allow this to morph into that. This is what it is and needs keeping in its place.
You can forgive her, Dismayed. And you can leave this unedifying little episode behind. You can let go and keep your distance. You can know what you know. You can forgive her but trust her less. You can forgive her and wish her well. You can acknowledge the hurt, be kind to yourself and take a position of strength. Do not re-victim yourself. There is no need.
These feelings are only feelings, lovely Dismayed. They will not kill you. At this point, they only have the power that you imbue them with. Take that power back. Put it into something that isn’t the cheating ex and the friend who makes dodgy (when it comes to you, at least) decisions. Put it into your future. This stuff is spilt milk. Don’t cry over it. Just continue to move on…